« PreviousContinue »
Christi College, Cambridge; a version of which it may justly be said, that it combines, with a literal adherence to the original, much harmony of metre, and much clearness and sweetness of expression.
By Babylon's proud stream we sate,
And tears gushed quick from every eye,
Came rushing on our memory;
For there our tyrants in their pride
"Come, breathe your native hymns again."
When thou, loved Zion, art forgot,
Mute be these guilty lips for aye!
Of a psalm thus powerfully appealing to the tenderest emotions of the heart, and at the same time presenting so vivid a picture to the eye, it might naturally be expected, that not only trans
lations would abound, but that, under the less shackled form of imitation, genius would endeavour to transmit a gem of kindred excellence. The attempt, certainly one of no little difficulty, has been lately made by two poets who stand high in the public favour, though of widely different taste and talents. As that which most strictly pursues the outline and arrangement of the original, I shall first exhibit the design of Mr. Montgomery, taken from his "Songs of Zion, being Imitations of the Psalms," a work which appeared very shortly after Mr. Dale's Specimens.
Where Babylon's broad rivers roll
In exile we sat down to weep;
Our harps upon the willows hung
Where, worn with toil, our limbs reclined;
How can we sing the songs we love,
If I prefer thee not above
My chiefest joy, may this right hand,
My tongue be dumb, my pulse be still!
In this beautiful little poem the latitude is taken with so sparing a hand, and the slight additional imagery so perfectly amalgamates with that of the original, that it may almost be considered in the light of a literal version.
A deviation of a much wider kind has been assumed by lord Byron, who, in his "Hebrew Mclodies," whilst he has preserved the general tone and spirit of this exquisite passage, has not only added to, but inverted the series of its imagery. It is, however, notwithstanding this licence, worthy of the Hebrew lyrist, and of his lordship's talents; and the opening lines of the second stanza, especially, present us with an image as striking and accordant with the subject, as it is new and pleasing:
We sate down and wept by the waters
While sadly we gazed on the river
Which roll'd on in freedom below,
That triumph the stranger shall know !
On the willow that harp is suspended;
And ne'er shall its soft tones be blended
Having indulged myself, and, I trust, my readers, in bringing forward this series of parallel versions, to which the intrinsic beauties of the passage, and the singular success of many of its translators have induced me, I shall now revert to the Psalms of lady Pembroke for one more specimen of excellence in her version, which has as yet not only not been surpassed, but I may venture to say never equalled. It is from the opening of that truly magnificent psalm, the one hundred and thirty-ninth.
O Lord! in me there lieth nought,
For when I sitt
Thou markest it,
No less thou notest when I rise; Yea closest closett of my thought
Hath open windowes to thine eyes.
Thou walkest with me when I walk,
And every where ;
Not yongest thought in me doth grow, No not one word I cast to talk,
But yet unutt'red thou dost know.
To shun thy notice, leave thine eye,
Thy throne is there.
To dead mens undelightsome stay? There is thy walk, and there to lye Unknown, in vain I should assay.
O sun! whome light nor flight can match, Suppose thy lightful, flightful wings Thou lend to me,
And I could flee
As far as thee the ev'ning brings ;
Ev'n led to West he would me catch,
Nor should I lurk with western things.
Doe thou thy best, O secret night,
In sable vaile to cover me;
Thy sable vaile
Shall vainly faile :